Where’s the fruit? When we feel overwhelmed, we can forget how to give generously, joyfully, and peacefully – but faith can restore us to fruitfulness.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. – Habbakuk 3:17-18
This has been a surprise-filled Spring in New England for weather. We had some late snow storms, unexpected cold snaps, and, in between all this, a wonderfully mild week when the buds of bushes, plants, and trees began to pop out everywhere. I probably got too far ahead of myself in getting our gardens ready for Spring during the mild weather – some plants got a good chill in that returning cold weather. Will all of these plants pull through and survive? Probably not – there will be some losses. But I can’t predict what will happen any more than my dwarf pear tree can predict how full its branches will be this fall. I have to be content in helping things to grow as my everyday reward.
In his book Meditations of the Heart the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman warns us that we need to be careful about how we approach “the fruits of faith.” He says, “It is true that most of the fundamental decisions which we make are made on the basis of insufficient evidence. We cannot wait for final proof or verification. It would be too late…the supreme thing about the good life is that it is good.” For example, the fruit that my pear tree produces is the result of its basic fruitfulness – a wonderful and good trait that never benefits the tree itself. The fruit tree never judges how it’s doing, or expects judgment – it just grows.
Focusing on fruit or being fruitful?
I see this need to focus on fruitfulness instead of fruit in my own faith journey. I was accepted recently by Yale Divinity School to complete my Master of Divinity degree, and I am excited about the opportunity to study there. However, I know that my studies will not guarantee that I will succeed to my satisfaction as a United Methodist pastor, nor will I know what possible impact I may have on lives years after I have left these ministries. I don’t even know what kind of pastoral assignment I will get from our church leaders – or where. I just keep on working every day, giving and getting what’s available, trying to not judge myself too highly or harshly in the process.
Jesus talks about the fruitfulness of trees to his followers in many places in the gospels. Jesus tells us that good fruit comes from good trees in Luke 6, for example. But here’s the catch – like my pear tree, the trees in Jesus’ parables don’t know how good their fruit will be – they’re just trying to be what God has made them to be. A tree pushes out its shoots in the spring with whatever God has given it – sun, water, nutrients, and, hopefully, good care. I am glad when I see evidence of God’s fruitfulness in myself and others, but I really don’t have much control over that people think of my efforts – they’ll have their opinions, and they might be supportive opinions, but not always.
Jesus knew this, of course, and he was the great example that we have of living fruitfully, no matter what. He was healing and forgiving others even in his final hours before his crucifixion, after his disciples, his faith leaders, his government, and his countrymen turned against him. He just kept doing what was good, right, fair, and loving. The only one who said to Jesus, “Look, give me the fruit I want, and I’ll set up you and your family comfortably for life” was Satan, when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus gave God’s love and grace to the world to be very end, and he wasn’t worried about being rewarded for the results either during or after the fact. He focused on being fruitful, knowing that a fruit is just a seed with a lot of juicy food around it. Like God’s creation of everything, Jesus’ reward was leaving something for the future that could grow as it was able to grow. Someone would benefit from what he had done – and it was up to those who became fruitful because of Jesus to make that happen.
Fruitfulness even when we don’t feel fruitful
But what happens when it seems that everything that we’ve done in life looks like it’s come to nothing? This is what the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk wondered. Like Jesus, he knew that there would be times when it would seem that everything had fallen apart. Our best plans failed. Our hopes for relationships and careers came to nothing. Our health failed, and our finances along with them. It’s at times like these that Habakkuk rejoiced and praised God as the source of his salvation. Why? Habakkuk knew that we are already God’s fruit – we are by our very nature the produce of God. We are already a miracle, part of the greater miracle of creation. We are here as the result of someone planting a future for God’s world.
Will every life or every detail of every life work out to that person’s satisfaction? Not likely. But already, we are a victory – a victory of creativeness, an effort to transform creation into something good, and, perhaps, even better. The tree that struggled against all odds to bear fruit and failed gave shade and shelter for living creatures. When it dies, it will replenish the soil, getting the earth ready for new fruitfulness. The tree that managed to push out a few pieces of hardy fruit in difficult seasons might just be the tree that creates thousands of new trees, able to endure what others could not. And so it will be with our own faith. If we think that whatever good we try to to just isn’t worth it, we’re dead wrong – and there’s an empty tomb in Jerusalem to remind us just how wrong we can be about endings.
There’s a great new season coming
Our fear of judgment can put a damper on this creative energy. We can get lost in worrying about the judgment of God or others, instead of focusing on just being fruitful as children of the creator God, redeemed from this worry by the assurances of eternal life from Jesus Christ, and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to live life today as if we were already in God’s eternal hands. God already has the victory through our faith – we can trust that Christ’s forgiveness empowers us to push ahead, not worrying about future judgment, because Christ’s hand upon our hearts is the seed of eternity already sprouting in us. If we stay captive to our fears, then we waste the possibilities for God’s creative plan in us – we say “no” to life that can be liberated from death. We kill God’s future when we fear the price of trying to be fruitful, no matter what, for God’s sake.
We will see what our part of that plan looks like in eternity – we’ll see the joyful dance of the whole picture that God is putting together, piece by piece, and come to appreciate our part in it. And, through faith, we can come to appreciate it even today. With every breath that we take, every beat of our heart, God’s possibilities are unfolding, moment by moment. Our each moment on this earth is a chance to say, “God is great! I am so glad to be God’s child. Let me try to do something good for God’s sake. That’s good enough for God, and it’s good enough for me.” My, how the stars dance when they see this fruit growing in us! There’s a new season coming through faith in God’s love encouraging us towards this vision. May it be fruitful through our faith in God’s plan – no matter what.